Surveillance and repression of Muslim minorities: Xinjiang and beyond

SOAS, University of London, 7 March 2020

Please find a detailed description of the programme and speakers here.

This public event aims to show how China’s extensive repression of the Muslim population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China connects to regional and global trends. Since 2016, an estimated 1.5 million Turkic Muslims have been detained in internment camps, while the wider population is subject to invasive systems of surveillance, severe restriction of freedoms, and disciplinary regimes of political re-education. This systematic and targeted set of policies, which purport to have a basis in Chinese law, harness the latest advances in surveillance technologies and are related to contemporary global flows of ideology and capital, notably the global ‘War on Terror’ and Islamophobia.

This conference aims to understand the developments inside Xinjiang within this wider context, examining the continuities, parallels, and direct links between the repression of Muslims in Xinjiang and the experience of other Muslim minorities in Asia and across the globe. We situate China’s policies in Xinjiang in the context of its wider goals of economic, political and diplomatic expansion, and thus who profits from this wave of repression. We consider the continuities between China’s governance of Xinjiang and the actions of other states, historically and today.

Participants in the event will include academics and practitioners focusing on Xinjiang, on examples of repression from other regions and on the three overarching themes that will anchor our discussions, outlined below. We will also consider the question of what our response should be.

  • Islamophobia, and the Global War on Terror

Since 2001, China has consistently used the rhetoric of Islamic extremism to explain its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. How do these rhetorical tropes of Islamic violence and terror flow around the world, and how do they play out in different locales, from Xinjiang to Kashmir to Europe and the United States?

  • Surveillance, Capital, and State Power

An extraordinary array of high-tech surveillance equipment has been deployed against Muslims in Xinjiang; observers have suggested that it serves as a pilot scheme for wider roll-out within China, and as an advertisement for worldwide marketing of these technologies. Fabrics produced in Xinjiang factories under conditions of forced labour are entering global supply chains. How can we connect the dots in these global flows of commerce, repression and power?

  • Does this Constitute (Cultural) Genocide?

In Xinjiang we have seen a raft of assimilatory policies including the destruction of religious sites, the break-up of communities, restrictions on the Uighur language, and coerced intermarriage, in addition to the forced separation of children from their parents as well as mass detention and increasingly well-documented systematic human rights violations in the internment camps. Do these actions signal the end of China’s long-standing nationalities policies? What lessons can be learned from the histories of settler-colonialism in other parts of the world? Do these policies fit the definition of genocide under public international law, or of crimes against humanity more widely, and what international actions should be taken if they do?

Supported by the SOAS China Institute, King’s College London, London School of Economics, Citizens, Nations and Migration Network (University of Edinburgh), and Queen Mary University of London.


Introduction and Panel 1 “Islamophobia, and the Global War on Terror”

Panel 2 “Surveillance, Capital, and State Power”

Panel 3 “Does this Constitute Cultural Genocide?”

Looking to the Future: Responses to the Crisis